“All-time” means “in the 20 years they’ve been measuring this,” but still. In 1996, amid soaring public concern about crime, support for a ban stood at 57/42. Twenty years later, after a long period of stupendous decline in crime rates in many major cities, it stands at … 36/61. As recently as four years ago, the gap between support for a ban and opposition was still fairly narrow at 44/51. Four years later, the bottom has dropped out. Huh.
What makes this really surprising is that it isn’t a standard partisan effect in which Republican opposition to a ban is outpacing Democratic support for it. All three partisan groups have seen sharp declines in support since 2012:
Democrats are on the precipice of losing majority support for an assault-weapons ban, which remains a staple to this day of their leadership’s gun-control chatter. Huh again. Just to add to the intrigue here, a separate Gallup poll taken earlier this year found a sharp uptick in fear about crime rising again:
If support for a ban has dwindled over the years along with fear of crime, shouldn’t a swell of fear recently lead to a swell of support? Sean Davis says no, that there’s no paradox. The more people worry about crime and terrorism, the more open they’ll be to citizens arming themselves in defense. Certainly true — among gun-rights advocates and perhaps the squishy middle. But since when do Democrats feel that way? The left-wing reaction to perceptions of rising crime, I’d have guessed, would be the usual panic about guns — there are too many of them out there, criminals are using them to commit crime, therefore step one in reducing crime rates is to reduce the manufacture of new guns. That’s the logic that led to the original Clinton-era assault-weapons ban, right? Instead we get this.
Here’s another data point from Gallup that’s just a few days old and that might bear on this:
Other data from the same poll shows that while respect for the police is higher among whites than nonwhites, it’s spiking in both groups — in fact, it’s increased more among nonwhites (14 points) than it has among whites (11 points) in the past year, and that’s despite the fact that questionable shootings of black suspects by white cops continue to draw lots of media attention. Some of this newfound respect for cops is obviously driven by the horrendous murders of police officers in Dallas and New York, but some of it too might be a function of the perception that crime is getting worse and the police have to bear the brunt of it. It seems logical to me that support for more gun rights and support for the police would both be byproducts of growing fear of crime — but as I say, it’s not necessarily logical to a liberal who sees gun-grabbing as a solution to every criminal problem. And yet they’ve reached an all-time low in supporting an assault-weapons ban. Surprising.
One thing that occurs to me: What if the left has simply given up on gun control to some extent? They couldn’t even get expanded background checks passed after the Sandy Hook shootings, despite public support on the order of 85-90 percent. They’re obviously not going to get an assault-weapons ban passed. It may be that the GOP stranglehold on the House plus resolute Republican resistance to any new gun-control measures has convinced some Democrats that it’s pointless to keep pushing for this. The right won and the left lost. (I’d like to believe, as Davis suggests, that the public has given up on the ban because it’s stupid and cosmetic, targeting a class of guns that are no more or less lethal than those that wouldn’t fall under the ban, but he has more faith in the public’s grasp of policy than I do.) That same phenomenon may also explain why Republican resistance to gay marriage has softened a bit in the last few years — it may not be just a matter of GOPers changing their minds on the merits but of some believing that this battle is lost and it’s not worth wasting more political capital on it. I’ll be curious to see if liberal ambivalence about an assault-weapons ban remains low if Hillary wins next month and Democrats make gains in Congress, making the chances of passing a new ban better than they’ve ban since Obama’s first year in office. If it does, that’s proof of a pretty decisive Republican victory on this issue.